DENVER – Coloradans would vote primarily by mail, and they could register to vote on Election Day under a bill Democrats are proposing at the state Capitol.
Neighborhood polling places at schools and churches would be a thing of the past, and in-person voting would happen at a few centralized voting centers in each county, if the bill passes.
Even before it has been introduced, the bill has touched off a partisan fight.
But La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker, a Republican, supports the bill and says it’s not a partisan issue.
“To me, this is really bipartisan. This makes sense. This is not Republican versus Democrat,” Parker said.
But at the Legislature, the two parties already are lining up against each other. Democrats have many county clerks on their side, even Republican clerks like Parker. Republicans are aligned with GOP Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who has been speaking out against the bill.
The Colorado County Clerks Association initiated many parts of the bill, seeking a less complicated, less expensive way to run elections.
About three in four Colorado voters cast their ballots by mail last fall. In La Plata County, 62 percent voted by mail.
“That’s the No. 1 method that people want,” Parker said.
Under the bill, every registered voter would get a mail ballot. Voters still could choose to go to a vote center during the 15 days before the election to cast their votes in person. La Plata would have three vote centers, while counties with fewer than 10,000 people would have one.
But precincts would not have their own polling places, which will save money in county budgets, Parker said.
The bill also would eliminate the practice of putting voters on the inactive list if they miss an election.
Gessler sued county clerks in Pueblo and Denver – two Democratic strongholds – to try to prevent them from sending mail ballots to voters on the inactive list.
Most controversially, the bill would fulfill a dream for Democrats: allowing residents to register to vote on Election Day.
Although the deadline to become a Colorado resident and register to vote through a registration drive would be 22 days before the election, unregistered residents still could walk in to the county clerk’s office and register as late as Election Day. Currently, people are supposed to register 29 days before the election to be able to vote.
Republicans in Denver are livid. Same-day registration opens the door to voter fraud, said Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Call.
“This is nothing more than a partisan power-grab by Democrats, taken at the expense of integrity in our elections,” Call said in a news release. “The last thing Coloradans want is the legitimacy of our elections cast into doubt because of the serious potential for voter fraud.”
Conventional wisdom holds that same-day registration will give Democrats an advantage. However, academics who have studied the idea find the evidence for it is sketchy.
Parker supports same-day registration, saying the state already effectively allows it through emergency registrations and provisional ballots, which are costly and time-consuming to count.
The statewide voter database is updated constantly, and it will guard against people voting more than once, Parker said.
Four years ago, before the database existed, Parker said she might not have agreed to same-day registration.
The bill is expected to be introduced this week in the state Senate.